Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Words and Numbers and Crap, Plus a Subtle Ocean Metaphor for the Hell of It

In a world where Mitt Romney can't put behind him a ridiculous kerfuffle about a dog on a car roof, how did he think these words wouldn't come back to haunt him?

So far the 2012 Presidential campaign has been heavy on bullshit and light on stuff that is not bullshit. In other words, we're right on course. Because every Presidential campaign in recent memory has reached successive new heights of pettiness and fabricated scandal, from George W. Bush's grades to Al Gore's electric bill to Barack Obama's goddamn birth certificate. All of these stories were political chimeras, orchestrated to distract voters in the shallow end of the electorate from real, complex issues of policy, aka the hard decisions that might actually keep America from becoming a nation of feral apes and/or being swallowed up by the Earth.

Yep, policy issues tend to be dry and difficult and kind of scary. It's much easier (and funnier) to latch on to sound bites and infographics.

In theory, anyway.
I think this one is trying to convince me that a lot of people
are unclear on the concept of infographics.
Still, any campaign worth its SuperPACs can navigate public opinion through the rough waters of the opposition's negative spin to the safe harbor of its positive spin. After all, most of the sea monsters are just cheap props that thankfully have nothing to do with a candidate's real message.

But Mr. Romney's words at that May fundraiser really rankle me and a lot of other people. This isn't like the car elevator flap, which tweaked the "rich people spend their money on stupid shit but I can't afford HBO" stereotype while proving nothing about his fitness for office. Romney's characterization of 47% of Americans as irresponsible government moochers actually speaks loudly and clearly to his gameplan for running the country. "My job is not to worry about those people" - how do you spin that into the philosophy of a man who will serve all Americans, even the ones who don't vote for him?

You don't. Peggy Noonan, Wall Street Journal columnist and legendary speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, put it succinctly yesterday: "This is not how big leaders talk, it’s how shallow campaign operatives talk."

Hey, politics is a dirty business.  It's all about public image and agenda-tailoring and using short-term strategies to produce long-term results. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that Mitt Romney talked about the pesky barnacles of America to an audience of yacht-owning supporters. The idea was to appeal to the core constituency in terms that would resonate and translate into money and votes. Don't think President Obama doesn't use the same tactics in his fundraisers. Of course he does.

But Romney made a huge tacitcal error. He forgot the Prime Directive of Presidential Elections: You have to be President of Everybody. You have to at least make a compelling argument that you're seeking 51% of the vote so you can serve 100% of the people.

Any teacher will tell you: You have to teach the dumb kids, too. Or at least try. You can't write them off as inert ballast whose lives mean nothing to you. Not in public, anyway.

But that's what Mitt Romney has done. Even though his words weren't intended for general consumption, his short-term election strategy has become a very public declaration of what many believe will be his long-term agenda.

"I wonder who I can appoint as my
Secretary of Rich White People?"
What's worse, Romney is refusing to back down from his remarks. Instead he's trying to recast them as the difference between himself and President Obama regarding the philosophy of self-reliance.  Which is an accurate and valid takeway from his speech. But it doesn't change the fact that he flat-out accused 47% percent of Americans of being government leeches and said he doesn't care about anyone who doesn't pay income tax. Or that he said it because he thinks a majority of voters in this country feel the same way.

There's been so much talk about the 99% vs. the 1% over the past year. It should be a simple equation that the majority vote Mr. Romney needs to court will draw significantly from the 99%. And that the 99% includes seniors, veterans, unemployed professionals, and others who might appreciate the Republican message but have been marginalized into the "non-tax-paying scumbags" category Romney scorns.

I guess Mr. Romney is only good at the kind of math that lets him pay 14% in taxes on $21 million in income.

This gaffe, I think, is not going to fade away like insulting England during the Olympics or forgetting he told the Detroit auto industry to fuck off and die. England can't vote in our elections, and Detroit isn't going to tip the scales with its votes. But this time he may have pissed off enough people to make a difference.

He's certainly pissed off this taxpayer.

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